The Gauteng Health Department on Sunday confirmed that four cases of typhoid fever have been identified within Johannesburg – Hillbrow, Yeoville, Edenvale, and Palm Springs.
However, it insists there is no outbreak, and the disease is treatable with antibiotics.
Two of the cases were identified at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital while the other two were confirmed at the Edenvale District Hospital, the department said in a statement.
‘Unfortunately, one of them, a 27-year-old Malawian female patient, died at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital on Sunday 17th January 2016.
‘The deceased patient travelled to her home country three weeks ago for holidays and returned to South Africa through Mozambique on Tuesday 12 January 2016.’
She presented at the Hillbrow Community Health Centre (CHC) on 14 January complaining of fever, headache, and vomiting.
‘She was tested for malaria and since the results were negative and she was not seriously ill-looking she was discharged and asked to come back if her symptoms persisted. Tests for typhoid fever were not conducted because this disease is not prevalent in the community,’ the department said.
While at home her condition worsened so she returned to the Hillbrow CHC on 15 January and was referred to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.
She went to Charlotte Maxeke on January 16 complaining of a severe fever, headache, and joint pains. She died the following day. Tests confirmed that she died of typhoid, the department said.
Subsequently, another patient, a 16-year-old South African girl, was admitted on at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital on 19 January, also complaining of the same symptoms. She was immediately diagnosed with typhoid. She was being treated and was improving.
‘She has never travelled out of the country, or anywhere outside Gauteng,’ the department said.
Two Zimbabwean girls, aged 11 and three, were admitted at the Edenvale District Hospital on 13 January and 22 January respectively. Both were diagnosed with typhoid and treated.
‘It is understood that both children just returned from Zimbabwe, their home country, on Tuesday 12 January 2016, after brief visits there,’ the department said.
Typhoid is a highly infectious disease and spread through the ingestion of contaminated food and water. It is common in communities where there is inadequate sanitation. Poor personal hygiene is also responsible for the rapid spread of the disease. It is particularly important to wash hands before preparing food.
Symptoms of typhoid include high fever, headache, joint pains, and abdominal discomfort, sometimes with vomiting.
‘Health professionals are advised to test such patients for typhoid and, if not possible, they must be referred to institutions that are capable of conducting such tests. We have activated our outbreak response team (ORT) to trace and manage these cases and to determine if there is a common source. We wish to assure the public that we are on the alert. People must always wash hands,’ Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said in the statement.
To determine the source of the disease, the ORT had, among other things, sent environmental health practitioners to the residences of the affected patients to check whether there were other people who might have similar symptoms, and taken samples from all sources of drinking water.
‘The team has also checked on patients at all affected health facilities. They will continue to be on the alert, and have advised all health professionals in Gauteng to also be vigilant,’ the department said.